Wednesday, August 31, 2022

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Memphis Action Ringside Program 11/9/1977

Just like the existing promotions of today, each wrestling territory had its own flavor. I’ve always considered myself a lucky wrestling fan in that I can really find something to like in any style of the sport we love. Watching classic wrestling I can flip from show to show, promotion to promotion, style to style without a second thought. One area that has always stood out to me was Memphis. It was almost the perfect blend. You had great stars, a wild fanbase, hard-hitting wrestling and even a solid dose of what we would now call “sports entertainment.” Some of the content may not have held up as is the case in many other promotions, yet simultaneously a lot of the product was ahead of its time. I’ve also been very fortunate to have met many of the key players from the glory days of the promotion. Jerry Lawler, Jackie Fargo, Lance Russell, Jerry Jarrett. The list goes on and on. Now, if you want a true history lesson in Memphis wrestling you’ll take some advice that I’ve given before on this blog and head over to In addition to being a great guy (and Hall of Famer!), Mark is the absolute authority on Memphis and its many wrestling greats. In fact, he has co-authored many of their autobiographies!

Today we’re going more for some fun nostalgia than a history lesson. There were various types of programs published by the Memphis promotion over the years from the digest-sized “Slam-O-Gram” to the “Action Ringside” programs. It’s an example of the latter that we’re paging through here. On the Action Ringside covers you’ll often see one of the iconic names of the promotion in a black and white photo. On this example we have Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Valiant, Superstar Bill Dundee, Norvell Austin, Dennis Condrey and Phil Hickerson. The date? Nearly forty-five years ago on November 9, 1977. The location? Evansville, IN. Always the trooper, it appears that The King was doing double-duty in our huge Double Main Event. One match was slated to be Lawler and Dundee taking on Jimmy and Johnny Valiant while Lawler would also team with Norvell Austin to go against Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey. Midnight Express fans would take interest in the latter as the match features pioneering members of the team on opposing sides. The card was also set to feature The Great Mephisto against Scott Casey, Mr. Wrestling against Ken Dillenger and Terry Gordie against David Shultz. The spelling was a bit off but that last listed match obviously features Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy (at just sixteen years of age) against “Dr. D” David Schultz. If that was an opener you get the feeling that it did its job in getting the crowd going. 

This is one of the thinner Memphis programs that I’ve come across. Really it’s a total of six pages if you include the front and back cover. Still, the promotion smartly used every bit of space on each page. Interestingly, the program only advertises and promotes the wrestling stars, shows and other inter-promotional interests. There aren’t any ads for local sponsors such as restaurants, retail stores or insurance agencies as you’d often see in other territorial programs. The Jarrett-Welch promotion wanted to promote one thing: wrestling. It certainly shows here. I’d definitely be interested in locating some of the materials from the Dundee-Lawler Fan Club that is advertised. If the quality of the membership card was anything like that of Jimmy Valiant’s (which is almost vinyl and still shines), there very well could be some sitting around in a dusty Tennessee attic. The other Samoan tag team of the ‘70s, Tio and Tapu, are shown here as well. 

The next two pages are chalk full of photos and interesting bits. David “Shultz” is shown along with Mike Stark. The duo was said to be forming a team. Territorial wrestler Bill Howard is shown as “Ratamyas.” Most interesting is the half-page ad announcing that The Gentry’s would be “coming here soon” in concert with special guest Jerry Lawler. It isn’t truly clear if they’d be coming to Evansville or not, but we all know where this would end up. As prominently shown, Jimmy Hart was a member of the group best remembered for their hit “Keep On Dancin.” The rest is history. At nearly 80, Jimmy Hart is still one of the hardest working men in pro wrestling. He makes countless appearances and in addition to being one of the nicest people in the business always makes sure that fans walk away with a smile on their face. He’s gotten a huge kick out of the many Memphis items that I’ve brought to signings over the years. I could definitely do several entries just on “The Merchandise of The Mouth,” and in fact I already have. We finish off this section with the written word of “Kangaroo” Al Costello seemingly telling us that wrestlers are not bigoted. Costello managed the team of Condrey and Hickerson on this night. 

We close the book with a photographic look at four “Fan Favorites” as the page proudly proclaims. Fresh-faced youngsters are featured, to be sure. We’ve got Scott Casey, Bill Dundee, Robert Gibson and our teenaged sensation Terry Gordie. Dundee, likely the oldest of the bunch here in his 30s, definitely looks to be channeling Elvis here as he often did, just months after the passing of “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” Robert Gibson, mustache and all, is definitely doing his best to be the number one heartthrob in the territory here, years before The Rock N’ Roll Express would be born in this exact promotion. Casey is mainly remembered for his work in Texas and his WWF run (highlighted by his 1988 Survivor Series appearance) but he’s missing his familiar mustache here. Perhaps Gibson borrowed it? Last but not least we have the man who would become a Freebird in a few years. Honestly, he looks like a thicker Bryan Danielson here! Terry Gordy was a young prodigy of the mat game, for sure. 

It appears that Lawler and Dundee bested The Valiant Brothers that night while Lawler and Austin lost to Hickerson and Condrey. It also seems that Schultz did double duty just like Lawler and defeated both Scott Casey and Terry Gordy, individually. Finally, Mr. Wrestling beat Ken Dillenger. From anything that I could find it seems that this was indeed Tim Woods under the mask. You can never be too careful with identities in these “wild west” days of a notoriously carny industry. These results (and the substitution) are all what was noted by the original fan who owned this program, so it may not be spot on. Sounds like a fun show, though! Where do I buy my ticket?

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Centerpiece Of The New WWF Generation

What were you doing twelve months ago? If you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance that you were thinking it would take forever for a year to pass. That’s because, again, if you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance that you were smart enough to back the Mattel Creations WWE New Generation Arena set. We were told all along that it would ship in August of 2022 and sure enough the arrivals have begun. I never seem to win the shipping time lottery, but for whatever reason my orders were among the earliest to ship. This is usually not the case and quite honestly I was due. The large online wrestling figure store that’s barely two states away from me takes at least two weeks after everyone else to get my orders to me so believe me, I suffer enough. 

Now what is currently shipping is everything that’s in the main box. The entrance way, the ring, Diesel, Doink and even the ring skirts are all here. What isn’t here is the item that, to some, is the highlight of the whole deal, 1994 Macho Man Randy Savage. Since the figure doubles as commentator Savage it’s presumable that is why the commentary table and chairs set will be shipped with him. What did ship here all fits into one big box. The outer case that it fits into is just like how it would’ve shipped to the store. Seeing as some won’t see the item as “complete” without it, you may want to hold onto that box. It should also be noted that once you open the shipping case the whole set is really no longer sealed. There’s a tremendous “display box” like you would purchase off of the shelf were it sold in stores but the ring pieces are packed into smaller bags and even the Diesel and Doink figures aren’t taped shut. Doink has those annoying plastic tab holders around his ankles like many Mattel figures do but really once you open the case nothing is truly sealed. This may be of some concern to boxed collectors, but I never found much use in keeping the Ultimate figures carded/boxed with all those heads and things floating around. Really though, you’ll soon see why there’s not much to be concerned about with this set even if you end up not liking it. 

For me the highlight is the entrance way. No, you’re not getting the actual WWF logo. I think if you’re not over that fact after two decades it may be time to get out of the hobby. What you are getting is the type of add-on/playset that most of us have wanted for thirty years. I know I wasn’t the only one who made a cardboard facsimile of the famous neon WWF entryway shortly after it debuted at WrestleMania VIII. It just looked cool. Now we have it. It lights up. It has a variety of lighting patterns just like the real one. While I wouldn’t say it was worth the $250 to back this thing all by itself, it definitely eats up a good $100 chunk. This thing is substantial and large. In fact, it may even be a bitter bigger to scale with the figures than the real one was to the real superstars. In any case, this alone could be the centerpiece to an amazing looking shelf display surrounded by figures. In case you have one on the way be sure to have four AA batteries on hand to get started. I considered embedding a video to show how cool the lighting is, but rather just head on over to Instagram (@jws_wrestling_memorabilia) and check it out there! 

Next up is the ring itself. Honestly this is my least favorite portion of the deal and I kind of figured that it would be. I just cannot warm up to any “Real Scale Ring.” They’re always just too big if you ask me. This one does have some features that I like as well as some things that I don’t care for. I will say that it was one of the easier scale rings to assemble. The easiest was the Raw ring that Mattel lied to us in order to get us to purchase by saying that it would be the only way to ever get “old man” Elite Goldberg. Well, that turned out to be a joke. Nonetheless the ring didn’t have much assembly required. The worst are the Jakks and Jazwares versions where it takes two hours to set the damn things up. I think I may have assembled the Classic Superstars versions twice a piece. The Jazwares AEW version that I was forced to buy in order to get the first female referee figure? That one was assembled for the photos on this blog. I don’t expect to deal with it ever again. 

The frame of the ring Is easy to build and the faux-wood (they’re plastic) planks are made to resemble how a real wrestling ring is assembled. I do like how the pieces are rather nicely separated into individual bags which were mostly in cardboard dividers. The wooden planks are in three sections and they do seem to stay in. The canvas mat wasn’t too bad to deal with either. There are still wrinkles like all of these mats, but I like how holes in the canvas attach to plastic hooks on the bottom of the framework. I like the color blue chosen for all of the visible plastic pieces. Ignoring the skirts this really could be any era of WWF ring. That’s a very good thing. I didn’t fiddle with mine too much but I didn’t like how the skirts rise above the side of the apron. Again, it may take some fiddling but they protrude just a bit too much at the top as shown in the pictures. That being said, it’s cool that we have basic WWF, In Your House and WrestleMania to choose from. 

The one thing that I couldn’t believe, in a bad way, was when I opened the turnbuckles. While I did appreciate that one of each four turnbuckles is connected to the ropes making it easier to space them out (something that’s always been an issue on most Real Scale Rings), I could not believe that one of the red turnbuckles has a huge, unsightly materials tag sewn right on. It just hangs there. Now most will just cut the thing off, but this has never been on any ring before to my knowledge. It’s completely unsightly. I have yet to attempt to remove mine, though I will and hopefully without doing any damage. It does ensure that most of these that are assembled and go on display will never truly be “mint” as no one is going to want that thing showing. Mattel, what were you thinking here? 

Like I said, it’s one of the better Real Scale Rings but I’d have preferred a bit smaller. The assembly is actually a tad fun in a sense and I can already envision some wrestling figure photography being done with partially assembled rings. A fight breaks out before the show and spills into the arena where the ring crew is setting up? I’m ready to do it. Also it should be noted that two of the cardboard trays that the pieces ship in are the small “crowd” backdrops that were promised later in the hype phase. They’re fun and what I’ve included in the photography here. They’re not as detailed as the third-party crowds that I usually use in my reviews, but I didn’t want to confuse people into thinking that those larger backdrops are what’s included here. These smaller ones would also work great next to the entry way on a shelf display as mentioned earlier. Tons of possibilities for display and play! 

Now onto the figures! We have two definitive “New WWF Generation” characters in Diesel and Doink the Clown. As noted earlier “Macho Man” Randy Savage in his WrestleMania X/commentator outfit will be shipping to backers at a later date, so I’m sure I’ll throw a review up for him as well just to complete the set. Let’s face it, he’s going to be another highlight in the ever-growing Mattel Macho collection. While Diesel was “The Leader of The New Generation,” I feel that we’ve gotten enough of him. The fact that it’s “Ultimate” really means zilch to me. It’s an excuse from them to charge more for a couple of extra accessories. That being said, this one came out far better than I’d imagined. The faces are dead on and it truly does resemble Kevin Nash in the era when “Diesel Power” was running roughshod over the WWF, if not so much at the box office. He headlined my first live attended pay-per-view (SummerSlam 1995) as champion and for that I’ll always have a soft spot for the “Big Daddy Cool” era. In fact, despite its numerous flaws, “The New Generation” is just about the last era that I’ll re-watch with any frequency as I find most of the Attitude Era impossible to get back into all these years later. 

While Randy Savage was the most hyped in the lead up, I think Doink the Clown is the figure that will lead to the most regret from anyone who didn’t back this thing. This figure is great. It is indeed Matt Borne as only he wore this guise. It’s early Doink. The Doink that tripped up the Big Boss Man. The Doink that beat Kamala. The Doink that injured Crush! You get three heads and three hairstyles. I’m not so sure that it was advertised, but just like the first Mattel Doink release, the “wigs” are all interchangeable. Add that to the mallet that was present in at least one early promo photo and his jacket with the “squirting” flower (no, it doesn’t really squirt) and you truly have the Ultimate Doink. Savage will indeed be popular but due to the nature of the release of this set monetarily speculation has been the name of the game here. My bet is that Doink will be the star of the secondary market show. There are plenty of Randy Savage figures to go around and 1994 was hardly a key year for him. They never have any need to release this Doink again. My bet would be seeing another release of the most common Doink look (the first Mattel release) down the line with updated removable hands, etc. If you truly want original, evil Matt Borne you had to have backed this set. 

It's interesting to think how there will be just as much complaining about obtaining this set as there would be for a store exclusive, yet everyone had exactly the same opportunity to get this as anyone else. You backed it? You got one. You backed five? You got five. Make no mistake, the secondary market prices will only rise for this. The ring itself and Diesel will be the easiest to obtain. The ring will be released in other forms, though not necessarily the classic blue. Diesel isn’t different enough from other releases to warrant super high prices, though the “Ultimate” label is a necessity for some. The entrance, Savage and Doink are the gold here. In a way it’s a cautionary tale. If there’s something you feel that you’re ever going to want, you do what you have to in order to afford it when available for the initial price. There’s a similar crowd-funded item from a completely different toy line that I didn’t take advantage of. With the prices of that item now, the only way that I’ll ever own one would be in some form of re-release. Thankfully that company made it clear that they reserved the right to re-release the item down the line. Will they? Who knows. Mattel made it clear with this set, however, that apart from the ring coming back in some form the rest of it is one and done. Is it worth the prices that they’ll be selling for? Absolutely not. But it was definitely worth the $250. I’m confident that my readers were smart enough to back this thing and with you all I share my congratulations and have but only one other thing to say: let’s play!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Hasbro WWF Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart

The Tank! He quit professional football because it wasn’t rough enough for him! You know who I’m talking about. The Anvil himself. Though he passed away several years ago, Jim Neidhart has never left the minds of wrestling fans. From his 2019 WWE Hall of Fame induction as a member of The Hart Foundation to new merchandise to his future-Hall of Famer daughter Nattie, The Anvil remains a beloved legend of the ring and is destined to remain so. The beard. The laugh. The brutish physique. Even the little pink hat from that second WWF Tag Team title reign. All iconic. All Neidhart. 

Today we’re looking at what was the first figure that I personally ever owned of Jim Neidhart. While he did have an LJN Wrestling Superstars figure that I acquired later, I still remember walking into the Greensburg, PA Toys R Us somewhere between December 12th-December 13th 1992 (my 10th birthday was the 16th) and being shocked to find an all-new Hasbro WWF figure series including Neidhart, Virgil, The Mountie, The Warlord and Sid Justice. Jaws dropped. Birthday money was spent. A good time was had by all…or at least by me. Many fans count their first exposure to these five figures as part of the beloved “Undertake Em All” ad that hit WWF Magazine in early 1993. I guess I lucked out by finding them early, though even at this point generally you had to grab what you saw as there wasn’t any guarantee that you’d run into them again. 

While four of these were completely new additions to my roster (Sid was no stranger to my figure world thanks to the Galoob WCW Sid Vicious figure), The Anvil was my favorite. Not only was it a dead-on likeness from top to bottom, but we finally had the second half of The Hart Foundation tag team. The issue many have with the figure is that it reflects Neidhart’s time in “The New Foundation” with Owen Hart, rather than Bret. Gone was the familiar pink and black attire and replacing it were baggy blue pants with yellow trim and black and white checkered boots. A matching Owen was to come in late 1993, but this attire wasn’t exactly from a memorable run for either. Years later we would all learn that an original Hart Foundation version of The Anvil had been in the works but was changed as his role did in real life. 

Personally, I’ve always loved the figure. The attire never bothered me with how well they captured his body type and the absolutely perfect “Real Wrestling Action” used for the figure. The facial sculpt is the perfect blend between realism and that slightly cartoonish Hasbro look. I’m also certain that I’m not the only one who had no issues teaming this figure with Bret. Did it matter that they didn’t exactly match? Not when there are tag teams like Demolition, The Natural Disasters and Arn Anderson & Barry Windham (my own personal Galoob-born Brain Busters-esque duo) to battle. Eventually The Nasty Boys would join that lineup, but I covered why they were late to the party several years ago in another edition of The Wrestling Classic Figure Review. 

By the time “New Foundation” Owen Hart came along I don’t remember teaming the two very much. I certainly paired “The Rocket” with Koko B. Ware to recreate their team of “High Energy.” Koko’s Hasbro actually wasn’t too far off from matching anyway. The “punching” arm of The Anvil eventually came fairly loose and I ended up buying a second on eBay in the late ‘90s. Further on down the road I picked up a carded example and was able to get it autographed shortly before Neidhart’s passing in 2018. Like nearly every Hasbro WWF figure, the price of a carded version has elevated in recent years with the average cost for Neidhart settling around $250. 

For those still looking for true “Hart Foundation” Hasbro figures, Mattel has announced that they will be part of the next WWE Retro four pack along with manager Jimmy Hart and Nikolai Volkoff. The Anvil prototype looks fun and is a must-have, but I think I’m remaining partial to the original in the case. 

Yeah, baby!